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Ben Franklin's London House Opens As a Landmark

2 min read

The house in London where Benjamin Franklin lived just before the American Revolution opened as a public museum on 17 January, exactly 300 years after the birth of the scientist and statesman [see photo, " "]. Just a stone's throw from today's Trafalgar Square, the house is an IEEE Milestone--a historically significant location selected by the IEEE History Center in collaboration with local sections. It also is the first site outside the United States to be designed by Save America's Treasures, a public-private partnership of the U.S. National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house has "many original features which we've worked hard to restore," says Michael De Guzman, who as artist in residence has been much involved with the effort.

From 1757 to 1775, Franklin worked in London for the Pennsylvania Assembly and then for other colonies, lobbying the British government on their behalf. He also continued his famous scientific investigations while living at 36 Craven Street from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1772 (and down the street at number 7 from 1772 to 1775). Franklin's work in his London laboratories ranged from the study of canal systems to the development of an improved alphabet, with six new letters.

His interests even extended to music. While in London he invented a "glass armonica," a musical instrument that reproduces the sound that wine glasses make when rubbed with a moistened finger. Franklin's design uses a horizontal spindle to hold and rotate nested glasses, which a musician plays with moistened fingers. A working replica is on display in the house [see photo, " "].

Franklin returned home in 1775 to become the only person to sign all three documents key to the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence; the Treaty of Paris, which ended the revolution; and the U.S. Constitution. His famous experiment with the kite (memorialized in the diamond of IEEE's logo) won him almost unparalleled international celebrity and prompted a leading French intellectual of the day to call him the man who "snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants."

The four-story townhouse was built in the 1730s and has been carefully restored over the past few years. In 1998, the house hit the headlines when the restoration team discovered human remains including skulls and bones buried in the back garden. The remnants date from Franklin's time but were probably discarded by a physiologist called William Hewson, who ran an anatomy school on the premises.

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